I have a confession to make. I did a Tedx talk in 2016, entitled: “Making Heads or Tails of the Third Age” and I never looked at it again.
The Third Age was a term I used for most individuals who, after a period of striving to survive and raise families and improve careers, seek opportunities to satisfy a need for more meaning and purpose in their life pursuits. The Tedx talk expressed my thoughts and insights about the importance of this period of our lives and why it is imperative that we show up in the world with the intent and purpose of creating a legacy for the generations that follow. I argued, notwithstanding the perils and pitfalls of aging, this is not the time to “lean out.” My call to action was to use our best selves and move forward with meaning and purpose by telling our stories and sharing ourselves with our family, friends and colleagues.
My confession is that after doing the talk, I never looked at it again. I’ve thought a lot about the concepts presented. I’ve given those ideas plenty of consideration, more so now than ever. But the thing is, despite all my heady ideas about who we are now in our Third Age, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the video of my talk. Honestly, one reason is I was just plain self-conscious – who was that woman? In my head I’m still 40 years old. Despite my claims otherwise, vanity persevered. The other reason is that it was not perfect. You see, at the very beginning, I attempted to tell a joke but I didn’t tell it correctly. Funny I couldn’t see beyond that flaw when I was preaching the opposite!
Under the current circumstances, the things I said that day were, and are, a true expression of my aspirational self. It sets forth a plan for how I want to live my life. It’s a call to action. A call to show courage and not defeat. A call to look for the silver lining in every circumstance. A call to accept our prior inconsistencies, missteps and defeats and utilize the lessons that we have learned to help others. One way to do this is by learning about great thought leaders past and present.
I have an insatiable appetite for reading about some of the great leaders of the past. One terrific source is Doris Kearns Goodwin. She is an author best known as a Presidential Biographer. Her books about FDR, Johnson and others are fascinating. She even wrote a memoir, “Wait Till Next Year,” about growing up on Long Island in the 50’s, replete with references to her beloved Giants and Dodgers and their exodus from Brooklyn to become west coast teams. This week I signed up for her class on leadership – 15 video lessons on 5 video lessons on masterclass.com. Masterclass.com has over 80 well known presenters giving masterclasses on a diverse variety of topics.
Harvard Business Review has a podcast series called “IdeaCast.” The creator is Nancy Koehn, an author and business historian at Harvard Business School. Koehn uses David Foster Wallace’s definition of leadership:
“individuals who help us overcome the limitations of our own weaknesses, laziness, selfishness, and fears, and get us to do the harder, better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”
In particular, IdeaCast has a 4 Part series called REAL LEADERS. This week I watched two of the four in the series. “Oprah Winfrey and the Power of Empathy,” chronicles Oprah’s life and the “ahh hah” moment in time when Oprah realized that her ability to empathize with others was one of her best traits. Her success came, in part, by aligning her life purpose with what came naturally to her.
Then there was the podcast about Abraham Lincoln which concentrated on his Gettysburg address. This groundbreaking speech, (which was only about 270 words- a case for brevity), was a turning point in his leadership style. Both sides in the Civil War had suffered great losses of life and Lincoln was despised by his enemies as well as members of his own party. In that short speech he changes his entire leadership style by uniting the nation and forging a new path forward.
While “Change Management” is a relatively modern business theory, Koehn says that the Gettysburg address is the ultimate change management speech. It essentially changes the narrative from “us” against “them.” He acknowledges that the many who lost their lives did so for a good cause. He forewarns that the days ahead would be hard and there would be many sacrifices, but that the sacrifices were worth it. He created a vision of the future by urging citizens to forgo the old beliefs and values that no longer served the nation and look forward to a new future, by adopting new aspirations that would lead to a rebirth of our nation. Koehn emphasized that Lincoln called it a rebirth, not a return to normal or a return to what was before.
If that is not relevant to what is happening today, then I don’t know what is! In the weeks and months ahead, it is my hope is that we don’t return to where we were but that we use this time to aspire to something even greater than who and what we were before.
In a concerted effort to move forward in this new way of life known as social distancing, we need to find new ways of feeling connected. As human beings we are hard wired to belong. The irony is that I am finding that I connect more with family, colleagues, clients and friends than I ever did before. There is something to be said for living in a lower gear.
In “The Art of Gathering,” author Priya Parker had this to say about the state of relationships before any of us heard of COVID 19:
“Gatherings consume our days and help determine the kind of world we live in…And yet most of us spend very little time thinking about the actual ways in which we gather. …And we spend much of that time in uninspiring, underwhelming moments that fail to capture us, change us in any way, or connect us to one another.”
Clearly, we were uninspired in our connections in the Pre-COVID world. The challenge now is to use this time to change and – when we return to normal – let us not go back to where we were but create a new normal that is more meaningful and substantive, more engaging.
I watched Priya in an interview entitled “How to create meaningful connections while apart” on the TED Connects series this week. She gives straightforward and practical advice on how to take advantage of gatherings that are unique to this time of social distancing. She states:
“We don’t necessarily need to gather more, we need to gather better.”
She suggests that we spend more time considering what it is we need at this moment in time and how we satisfy that need. For instance, she suggested a Zoom meeting with a stated purpose. One idea is Salon with 7 songs. The participants agree to meet on Zoom and one person chooses 7 songs that have a particular meaning to him or her. The songs are played and the participant tells a story about each song and its significance. This is a great way to add substance to a gathering either now or even later when we can meet in person. I recommend that you watch the Ted conversation, read the book and come up with your own ideas.
This is our opportunity to show up, be seen and be heard. It means acting like our better selves in order to become our better selves. One way forward is through the power of story telling. We need to tell our stories – not just the good ones where we triumphed, but also the bad ones where we fell short. We each get to write, craft, and change the narrative and find sense in the current situation.
“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.”